WInemaker’s touch is key to well-made products

May 7, 2018

I was sent a very nice note from Patsy McGaughy at regarding last week’s mention of smoke issues in Napa from last fall’s fires. Just wish to reaffirm the references in two recent columns. Generally, wineries are run by serious, dedicated people who would not bottle tainted products. Kathy assured me that about 10 percent of the later-harvest grapes were still on the vine, and these lots were sequestered. Most wineries are still relatively small businesses. They are ethical and very concerned with product quality. I certainly did not mean to disparage any of those. Clearly, I wrote, “it will be interesting to see how the winemakers affected deal with the puzzle.” Careful readers would note my mentioning the fact that many consumers find a smoky flavor or charred barrel scent attractive. Generally, better-made wine is done in smaller lots, and the winemaker will age, or place in cooperage for various amounts of time, then blend the lots to arrive at the desired profile. Sometimes a run is so wonderful they will vinify and bottle just one lot and label it. Think of the winemaker as a restaurant chef. Wine, like great food, is not only driven by the product the terroir provides, it is also crafted with great care, serious science, the palate of the chef and in many cases a cadre of expert advisors. 

Some of the early ripening 2017 is coming on the market now. We can let it speak for itself. Most of the big-name Cabs and Chardonnays will not see the market until next year or later. While you are waiting, you might try a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon Rosé. Michael Mondavi Family Isabel Mondavi Deep Rosé 2017, 87 McD under $20, will please your palate. Medium salmon-pink with strawberry and cranberry aromas, medium body, and balancing acidity provides a clean finish. These are sealed in bottles with glass stoppers. I like to reuse those bottles. After cleaning, I pour oils and vinegars, which I purchase in large containers, into them. Like grandpa said, “Count your money in pennies.” Of course, back in 1952 we still had penny candy, and you could watch a Saturday matinee with two cartoons, a newsreel, a short and a feature for 10 cents. 

My friend Nik Weis has a lovely, fairly priced Riesling just hitting our shelves. For those who wish to acquaint themselves with a “new to them” varietal wine from the Mosel region of Germany, Nik Weis Urban Riesling 2017 is an entry-level wine that won’t break the bank at about $13. It is pale golden-colored with a slight green tinge that reminds me of new hay. Look for citrus and apple aromas. On the palate, fruit implies sweetness, but this is dry wine. Bright acidity and some flinty minerality support all and provide a clean finish, 88 McD. If you wish to go up to $23, check out St. Urbans-Hof Ockfener Bockstein Kabinett Riesling 2015, 92 McD plus 1 price point. This shows the Saar-Mosel smoky/slatey minerality to a T. Starts with a lovely mixed floral nose that evolves to green apple and pear flavors and is supported by a pronounced bright finish. 

I rarely review sweet wine because the profile, with a few exceptions (well-made Sauternes comes to mind), is unappealing to me. Generally speaking, I get few requests to review them. Recently, I was sent a sample of Castello del Poggio Sparkling Moscato NV. Old straw-colored with a nice spritz, acacia (floral) and pear aromas with a mineral palate. As expected, this 7 percent alcohol wine is on the sweet side. I like the wine’s clever slogan, “Hello Sweet Life.” Finally, George, I thought you were baiting me. Yes, there is a wine called Bitch Bubbly. it is a Spanish Cava Sparkling Rosé NV made by R (Rest of World) Wines. It costs $10 and is salmon-colored with tiny bubbles, aromas are cherry and watermelon, with hint of caramel. On the palate, raspberry and black cherry, with proper acidity. Finishes with aftertaste of grapefruit and caramel, 85 plus 1 price point.